Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “nutrition”

Learning from each Mile- Embracing Change

It’s amazing how fast the summer flies by when you aren’t looking, isn’t it? As a society, we focus a lot of our energy on the summer months as a time for vacations, relaxation, and a change of pace. I’m struck by how much this falls in contrast with many other parts of the world, where life goes on as normal year-round, and vacations of a sort aren’t limited quite as much. Nevertheless, this time of year marks a point of transition in my little slice of the world, although it’s a much more subtle note of transition when compared to previous years. For almost two decades, this time of year has been a “new year” of sorts for me as the academic calendar kicked back into full swing for the fall semester. However, I’m not teaching this semester so I’m left to observe the new beginnings of friends around the country and reflect on the many twists and turns that my life has taken as of late.

It’s been a busy month, despite not pouring over syllabi and getting my lesson plans in a row, but I certainly miss the excitement and energy that comes with the first day of class. There’s just something about the promise and potential of meaningful conversations, growth, and learning that is forever a part of my DNA and will always materialize this time of year. I have no doubt that at this time next year, life will have changed even more significantly and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the classroom where I belong. In the meantime, I’m left to plan for other life experiences, and continue to live each day as fully as possible and not take for granted this time I have to reflect and pursue other projects, interests, and ideas that constantly fill my mind with wonder.

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I’m a firm believer in pushing the mind to explore those fleeting thoughts that linger on the edges, fade as you awake, and briskly pop in and out of our minds throughout the day. The world is such a fascinating place that there is truly no reason or excuse for boredom unless you succumb to the depressing reality that you are a boring person. This desire for information, answers, and the expression of creativity keeps me moving forward, both in my life as a whole, and in my running. When I lace up my running shoes and strap on my Garmin, I’m not only heading out for a workout, but I’m embarking on a small adventure with infinite possibilities. They exist all around me, and in my mind, expanding with each mile I travel.

I’ve always thrived on organization and planning, but have realized over the past few months that there is power and potential in the unknown. My summer training has been fairly abstract, and I’ve avoided any sort of organized training calendar. In part, this has been a de facto result of the most ambiguous and transitional months I’ve experienced in my adult life. However, I’d like to think that this has also been the result of a quest for mental strength. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of a training plan. You target a particular race, and work your way backwards, confident that as long as you hit all of your distance and time benchmarks along the way, then you’ll have a successful race. The reality, of course, is far more chaotic. There’s no way to accurately account for the seemingly endless list of random scenarios that can alter your training and ultimately your race day performance. At the end of the day, running isn’t about training for a particular race. It’s about engaging fully with each run and keeping your senses alert to the plethora of new information to be gained from that run. Change is inevitable, and what’s left once you accept that is the importance of finding yourself in the moment and enjoying each run. The big picture will come together on its own, but I’d rather take advantage of the opportunity to listen to my body and stimulate my mind with each passing mile. They all have something to teach us as long as we can let go of expecting to know what the lesson is on any given day.

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This notion of letting go, of course, is no small task. I’ve seen this on countless occasions as I watched student wrestle with the reality that what they thought to be the simple truth was in fact much more complex. I’ve seen folks enter the classroom expecting to learn one thing only to leave at the end of the semester having grown in ways they couldn’t even have fathomed months earlier. Information can be a powerful tool or a dangerous weapon, not only on a large-scale, but for us as individuals. We have unprecedented access to information at our fingertips, and can instantly gather enough “data” to provide us with what we assume is a pretty good analysis of what to expect. However, the moment we make up our minds about what to expect, we close every door that doesn’t lead to that conclusion. Of course, this happens subconsciously so controlling it is no easy matter. Many scientists would like to think they can do so, can be purely objective, but the reality is that we make countless subjective decisions before we ever begin an experiment…or a training plan. What would happen if we were able to free ourselves from those conclusions, and simply act? How would our lives be different is we had the power to simply go run? Setting aside any notions of fitness gains, time goals, target paces, or “A races” may very well change the act of running for us.

Clearly, I’m as guilty of thinking about those goals and gains as anyone else. I track my miles, monitor my pace, and keep track of PR’s for each of my races. These past months have taught me how limiting that can be, though. I moved from the flat lands of Iowa to the hilly and humid mid-Atlantic, and gave no real though to how those metrics might change. I naively expected my pace and volume to remain steady. I wasn’t ready to embrace the change around me, in part because I wanted to hold onto some aspect of the familiar. Now, I’ve managed to maintain my training volume, but unsurprisingly, my pace hasn’t been quite at the level that it was when I left Iowa. It’s amazing how heat, humidity, and hills can sneak up you, eh? Did I really expect my performance to remain consistent despite significantly different climate conditions and 10 times more elevation gain in every run? It took me all summer, coupled with a significant case of runner’s knee and an IT band that hates me, but I’m finally listening. I’m finally ready to embrace the change and listen to each mile. Even the miles with a 15% grade.

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RRCA Coaching Certification- Just call me coach!

It’s no secret that I love many different aspects of running. Heck, I wouldn’t be writing a blog otherwise, right? Not only do I love running itself, but I love the research that goes into deciding on workouts, races, shoes, nutrition, and many other aspects of running, and I love talking to other people about it. In many ways, I’ve brought the same research skills I use in my professional life to my running life, and they’ve served me well. Over the years, as I’ve learned more and more, I’ve really enjoyed being able to help new runners, and provide advice to friends when it comes to their training, nutrition, race decisions, gear, and various other running-related items. So, when I saw the notice last fall that the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) would be hosting their annual convention in Des Moines this year, and they would be offering a coaching certification class, I knew I had to sign up. After talking through (and justifying) the expense with the epicurean, I pulled the trigger and registered.

RRCAConvention

The coaching class (and convention) was held April 23-25, and it was a fantastic experience! Since we don’t have a RRCA chapter in Ames, I haven’t been involved with the organization in the past so this was my first opportunity to not only go through the certification course, but learn more about RRCA and network with folks around the country. The class itself was broken up into different modules and covered a wide range of topics. We spent three solid days learning the ins and outs of coaching while getting to know each other and picking the brains of three wonderful coaches and instructors with countless years of experience. The schedule was broken down as follows:

Day One

  • Introductions
  • Coaching History
  • Types of Runners & their Training Needs
  • Running Physiology
  • Building a Periodized Program

Day Two

  • Coaching Nutrition
  • The Business of Coaching
  • Sports Psychology

Day Three

  • Building Training Programs
  • Injuries, Heat, Altitude, and Running Form
  • Case Study Work- Putting it all together!

It was clear from day one that a great deal of time and effort had been put into designing this course, which made the educator in my very happy and at ease with my decision. The course focused on all levels of running, which was nice to see and led to a very well-rounded experience. My own experiences running have mainly been the result of my own decisions, running with friends, and putting together training “programs” myself without necessarily knowing the “why” behind what I was doing. I can’t tell you how many issues of Runner’s World and online articles I’ve poured over since I started running, and there seems to be a new “go to” workout every month, which can make it hard to decide what is right for you, let alone what is right for someone else. This is where the information on physiology and training needs became very beneficial.

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I’ve certainly talked to plenty of runners that ran in high school and college and learned second-hand about some of the workouts they completed. However, that was not a reality for this asthmatic kid, so it never really sunk in. Spending time in this course discussing how to set up a specific periodized program based on running needs and goals was incredibly beneficial and probably the most interesting aspect of the course for me. I feel like I have such a better understanding of how to go about helping folks train for reasonable goals, and how to measure their progress and adjust their training accordingly, which is key when working with folks who have individual needs, goals, and life circumstances. The information on nutrition, business, physiology, and psychology all seemed to provide the “why” and the “how” for making those training plans a reality. The result was an incredibly well-rounded and information coaching course that met all of my expectations and more.

In addition to the course itself, we had the opportunity to attend various other aspects of the RRCA Convention, which only added to the overall experience. It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by hundreds of people who are equally passionate about running as I am. I was able to make some new friends, share stories, and generally network. Once the course was over, we were required to take an online exam based on what we learned, which grilled us on facts, figures, and challenged us to put our new knowledge into practice. It has been quite a while since I’ve had to take an actual exam, and it was no joke! The threshold for passing is quite high so there was very little room for error, and I definitely felt a sense of relief and excitement when I submitted my exam and received my passing grade (with plenty of room to spare, thank you very much!). We also had to submit our CPR & First Aid Certification, which meant going through a new Red Cross Course. As a former EMT, I knew what I was doing and more, but I had let my certification lapse, so it felt good to get that taken care of before leaving Ames as well.

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What’s next? Well, I’d love to see just how I can put my new coaching skills and certification to good use. I am planning on looking into volunteer coaching opportunities, and will eventually explore starting a small coaching business that will allow me to take on private clients. In the meantime, if you are thinking about seeking out some coaching assistance with your running goals, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to work with you to help you achieve your goals and continue #chasing42 !

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part II

I believe I last spoke to you as I was returning from my second loop. I had completed 50 miles, was smiling, and my crew of friends, along with the epicurean crew chief, were restocking my pack, bladder, and flasks. My legs could definitely tell that I had just covered 50 miles, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit jealous of the folks finishing their race at that moment, but I was feeling really good for the most part. I was ready to tackle the second half of the race, and excited by the prospect of having pacing company for the next 50 miles. I was going to treat these miles as just another great run through the woods with some amazing friends! I ate part of a bean and cheese burrito, along with some orange slices, and was ready to roll.

Loop 3- The Darkness Sets In 

The nature of the course and the number of pacers meant that each of the four folks would tackle either 9 or 16 miles with me. Nicole and I headed out back onto the trail, and we were ready to conquer the next nine miles. It was nice to have someone to chat with after 50 miles of relative silence, and our conversations bounced all over the place. As I’ve talked to my friends more and more about the race, I’ve come to realize that I don’t actually remember nearly as many of the conversations as I thought I did. I was still feeling good early on in the third loops, so my mind wasn’t straying all that much from reality. My stomach, however, began to stray from comfortable after about 3 miles. Almost without warning, I began to feel nauseous and acquired a throbbing headache. I shared my discomfort with Nicole, and we spent some time trying to think about where my nutrition and hydration plan had gone wrong at this point. Most ultrarunners know that the stomach is a finicky beast, and I’ve certainly had my share of G.I. issues in the past. However, I felt like I had been taking in solid foods, Tailwind, and water pretty consistently over the course of the day.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

After a bit of discussion, it occurred to both of us…the burrito! How could I have been so foolish?! I was perhaps more hungry than I realized when I returned after the second loop, and the burrito sounded great at the time. It even triggered memories from the race in Arizona and the fantastic overnight burritos they fed us. Those, however, didn’t have cheese in them. I should obviously know better since I’m lactose intolerant. The middle of a 100-mile race is probably the wrong time to add some dairy-induced distress into your system, but that’s exactly what I did. The sun was setting, and my body was diverting resources to deal with the nausea that was consuming me. This, coupled with the declining temperatures, meant that my body was no longer balancing the fatigue that was beginning to overtake it. Our pace dropped off significantly, and Nicole did her best to keep me moving. The first aid station was a bit of a blur but I drank some ginger ale and found a ginger chew to try and calm my stomach. Running became considerably harder as I was constantly holding back the urge to vomit, and I’m still not sure how I managed to not return my dietary acquisitions to the earth. I focused on her voice, feet, and the trail and just kept moving forward.

By the time we reached the small section of black top before the mile 9 aid station and crew access point, I was hurting. It was a struggle to keep moving, and I was at a loss for how to describe the battle my immune system was waging against me. I was convinced that I was being attacked from within, and all I could do was settle in for the overnight siege. I’m not entirely sure how Nicole dragged me up to the aid station, and I don’t entirely remember it happening, but I made it and everyone was waiting for me. I found a chair, sat down, and put my head between my legs. Everyone worked around me to fill my bottles and get me food, and the images in my mind are more like blurry photographs than clear thoughts. The warmth and blandness of a cup of mashed potatoes was the perfect medicine for what was ailing me, and I gladly accepted it. I sat in the chair for what seemed like an eternity while everyone assured me that I was doing great, and Carla readied herself to take me out on the next segment. This was my first moment of doubt. This was the first time thoughts of quitting entered my mind. Everyone lifted me out of the chair, and the epicurean shared her faith in my ability to finish, quietly in my ear, as I left. That small, whispered sentence may have been the only think that got me back out on the trail.

Coming in to Mile 59...who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Coming in to Mile 59…who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Carla and I made our way down the trail to the stream-crossing, and I slowly stepped across, trying not to topple over. She helped me across (I think), and we continued on our way. I had picked up my headlamp at the last aid station, and it was now entirely black in the woods, so our lamps were the only think lighting our way. The moon would make an appearance later in the evening, but only in those brief moments when the tree canopy parted long enough for the beams of light to float down to the forest floor. After about 30 minutes, my headlamp began to get much dimmer. This was considerably worrisome, because a) I had fully charged it before the trip, and b) we had many hours left to go in the dark! After a few minutes, my headlamp was completely dark. Fortunately, my intrepid crew had snuck my flashlight back into my pack after I had handed it off. Carla fished it out, and we carried on,

The next few hours proved to be the lowest point not only in the race, but in my entire running career. My energy never really bounced back, and each step became a battle with my body. We ran a little, walked a lot, and our conversations drifted from topic to topic, becoming more and more random and non-coherent as the miles passed by (from what I remember, and what I’ve been told, anyway!). I struggled from aid station to aid station, and my mind drifted to thoughts of quitting quite frequently. Luckily, Carla kept me talking, kept me moving, and didn’t acknowledge my self-doubt. She maintained such an amazing attitude throughout the entire 16 miles, and I’m fairly certain that I finished those miles with her energy more than my own. This part of the race was such a blur that I seem to be gaining new memories each time we talk about it. I do, however, remember that silent moment in the dark when we heard a rustling to our left. We both pointed our lights on the area, and ever so faintly, we spied the image of a small, spotted cat. At the time, it didn’t register as overly frightful to me, although I’m guessing Carla, who was far more coherent, had other thoughts. We would find out later that bobcats are pretty common in the Mark Twain National Forest, and the story only grew from there 🙂

Somehow, despite my body’s constant onslaught on my movement, I continued to make relentless forward progress and we finished those 16 miles. It took 6 hours, which if I had been asked earlier, would have seemed like a ridiculous figure. Carla had definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty as a pacer, and earned her MVP (most valuable pacer) status for the trip. There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t have finished that loop without her. I had plenty of time to plan my DNF speech, but she got me to the 75 mile mark. I walked into Jackson’s landing like a zombie, with a look in my eyes that no doubt gave everyone a bit of a scare.

I remember sitting down in that chair, exhausted, and barely able to coherently utter the words I had been mentally rehearsing for the last two hours. My entire crew could sense my mood, and I whispered hints of dropping, which they expertly ignored as they checked my gear, filled my water, and sought out food to nourish me. My hands were almost numb after forgetting to pick my gloves up off the ground following a pit stop hours earlier, and I needed gloves. My fingers couldn’t function properly, so they slid the gloves onto my fingers comically as the race director watched on with a smile. He made a comment about getting me back out on the course, and was quick to help me remember I’d feel worse if I stopped than if I jumped back on the trail for the final 25 miles. He was right. I knew it, and I fought my body every step of the way so I could get back out there. Ultimately, I was simply too tired to quit. The words didn’t come out, and deep down, I didn’t want them to leave my mouth. They lifted me up, and Lani assumed her role as the next pacer as we slowly made our way to the trailhead.

Loop 4- Let There Be Light! 

The first nine miles of this loop were more of a blur than perhaps any other section of the course. I was unreasonably tired for some reason, and could have curled up on the ground at any point to take a brief nap. Lani’s amazingly positive attitude kept me moving as she announced each and every rock and tree root that my reflexes were too slow to adequately avoid. At certain points, stopping to take a drink of water meant teetering on the brink of sleep, and I spent most of those nine miles on the verge of falling asleep right on the course. My legs were heavy, and she helped lift them over the fallen trees that looked like the walls of Alcatraz, trying their best to hold me in the gloriously open prison of my own making. I’m always thankful for Lani’s positive attitude and energy, but was no more so than during those nine miles. I followed her voice, stared at her feet, and kept moving. The darkness seemed to encompass us completely, and the tunnel vision I experienced was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

I don’t remember making it to the first aid station, but I’m sure I took in some nutrition, drank as much as I could stomach, and kept moving. The nausea was gone, replaced by fatigue as pure as freshly fallen snow, and it took all of my energy reserves to keep moving. These hours represented a very dark point in my journey, and tested me in a way that no previous endurance event had. We were passed by a few folks in the couple of hours it took us to navigate the darkness, but for the most part, we were alone and left to our own thoughts. I recalled later hearing strange noises, but Lani brushed them off as kicked brush at the time, although I would learn later that she felt a shiver of fear at what might be lurking in the darkness. Our saving grace was truly the rising sun, which began to cut through the darkness slowly and gave me hope. I recognized the trail more towards the end of our 9-mile journey as I caught a subtle 8th or 9th wind. However, each time I thought we were close to turning the corner, I’d realize that I had miscalculated. I was running from tree to tree, from Switchback to Switchback, and eagerly anticipating our emergence onto the short stretch of black top. We finally hit that section as the light emerged with enough strength to allow us to turn off our lights, and it was a wondrous moment. Lani looked over at me and said “we did this”, and “you’re going to do this!”, and she was right. I could feel the sunlight coursing into my veins and reinvigorating me as we strolled into the Huck’s Watering Hole and Eric was there to meet us. Lani had pulled me through the darkness and I was eternally grateful!

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

I stopped to refuel, enjoy another cup of mashed potatoes, and visit a restroom that didn’t involve nature’s toilet paper. Many ultrarunners talk about the importance of getting through the night, and reaching the dawn. If you can reach the dawn, you can do it. I’d always thought this was a nice sentiment, and great for motivation. However, it wasn’t until this moment that I realized just how true it really was. Almost instantly, I felt my energy return, my mood improve, and excitement fill my body. I had just woken up from a walking slumber, and I felt as well rested as when the race had begun 25 or 26 hours earlier. My crew was admittedly surprised, especially considering how I looked the last time they saw me, and I assured them that it wasn’t a fluke. I took a final drink of water, and Eric and I headed out for the final 16 miles.

I was now awake and aware enough to appreciate passing each portion of the trail for the last time. We joked, talked about the previous lap, and discussed my new-found energy as we pushed forward at a much more brisk pace than I had seen in quite some time. I was able to run and power hike the whole rest of the route, and felt like I had extra energy to burn. Eric began joking about how easy his pacing duties were compared to the others, and I laughed with him. It was true, and I knew at that point that I would indeed be finishing this race, and my excitement only grew with each passing mile. In some ways, this segment became like any other early morning run with a wonderful friend. Eric and I have spent many early mornings ticking off the miles before meeting others, and I could think of no better person to finish out the race. We stopped at the final two aid stations and joked with the volunteers, ate pancakes, and I thanked them profusely for their support. Many folks seemed a bit surprised at my energy, but they were ultrarunners so they understood. Heck, we even passed a few people on the way into the finish.

Crossing the finish line...I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

Crossing the finish line…I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

With about a half mile to go, we came across a volunteer standing on the side of the trail and she began cheering us on. It was a testament to the dedication of all of the race staff that she had hiked that far down to cheer runners as they entered the home stretch. No matter how hard I push myself and for how long, I always seem to find a little bit of extra energy at the end of a race, and this one was no different. Eric and I rounded the final turn up the hill and into the clearing near the finish line, and I picked up the pace and began running with all the energy I had left. I crossed the finish line in 29 hours 46 minutes, wearing the biggest smile I’d had all day. The immensity of what I had accomplished took much longer to set in, but my joy was immediate. I felt a surge of endorphins rush through me instead of the expected final wave of fatigue, and I knew it had been an amazing race, and an incredible experience. There were plenty of hugs and handshakes, and I took a bit of time to rest and eat before we packed up the car. Our exit was quick due to the 9 hour drive we had ahead of us, but that just meant I had plenty of time to process what had just happened. I’ve never been more thankful for such amazing friends and an incredible partner than during this race, and there is no question in my mind that I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve no doubt forgotten many moments in this recap, despite it’s length, but that’s the beauty of a 100-mile race. The memories will keep floating in for months to come, and they’ll bring a little smile to my face every time!

Hard-earned hardware!

Hard-earned hardware!

 

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part I

There are some experiences that you know from the beginning will stick with you for a lifetime, and that thought creates equal parts pressure and excitement. The Mark Twain 100 was just such an experience, and I couldn’t have been happier with how the trip turned out. The lead-up to the weekend seemed like an eternity. I’ve been preparing for this race all summer, targeting it, and planning all of my training around this weekend. Some folks say it’s never good to put all your eggs in one basket, but this was my “A” race. No matter what happened, my hard work this year was leading up to that starting line.

This race was a series of “firsts” for me. I spent the previous two weeks working out the logistics for the trip, which was far more time than I ever remember spending on that side of race preparation. The beautiful epicurean and I would be camping near the starting line (you can’t argue with free camping!), so not only was I thinking about packing for the race itself, but also our camping needs. We also decided to bring Looper along for some outdoor time, which added another level of preparation. On top of that, I was going to have pacers, in the form of 4 amazing friends, for the first time in a race. I figured I should probably decide how to work with them as well. Even though this was my second time tackling the 100 mile distance, my previous adventure in Arizona was quite different. This would be my first true 100 mile trail race. Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind leading up to our departure.

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

We got everything loaded into the car (it just barely fit), and headed south for Berryman, MO around 8:00AM on Friday. The all-knowing Google told us it would be about a 7 hour drive, which didn’t seem that daunting, although I wasn’t crazy about spending that long cramped up in a car before running the next day. The drive ended up taking closer to 9 hours, and we arrived at the campground with rain falling on our heads. This was not a good sign! We set up camp in the rain, and then hopped back in the car to head to packet pick-up. Check-in was incredibly smooth, I collected my materials, along with a really nice hooded sweatshirt, and we stuck around for the pasta dinner. There was a brief race meeting at 7:00PM, and then a raffle for some great Salomon (one of the sponsors) swag. I ended up winning a pair of Salomon gaiters, which was a nice perk. By the time we got back to the campsite, it was dark and still drizzling. Crawling into the tent in the dark, with temps in the 40s and rain, didn’t exactly make for the comfortable evening I was hoping for but we made it work. Our 4 intrepid friends were still on the road, and would end up rolling into camp around midnight, by which time the epicurean and I were long asleep, albeit restlessly.

I woke up around 4:30AM to give myself time to eat a light breakfast (Cliff bar, banana, water) and get dressed. There was quite a chill in the air, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly once I started running. The darkness was still consuming the everything around us for the beginning of this 25-mile loop through the Mark Twain National Forrest, so I mounted a headlamp, slipped on arm warmers and a long-sleeve shirt, and waited for the 6AM start. This was a small race, with perhaps 60 people starting the 100-miler (4 loops), and another 100 beginning the 50-miler (2 loops). I anxiously awaited the start, sure that I forgot something, and then the clock ticked down to zero, and we were off. The course itself is a counter-clockwise loop and is 99% single track, so I fell in line with some other runners near the middle of the pack, and we made our way in the dark. Everyone was in really good spirits, and I was content to push forward and listen to the conversations around me. Many of the runners appeared to be from the St. Louis area (the race is put on by a St. Louis running group, the Slugs), and folks were talking about previous experiences on this particular trail. I knew going into the race that the course was single track, but it became clear pretty early that I had under-estimated the technical nature of the trail. It was certainly not as rocky as Flatrock, but I was not going to escape the constant bombardment of rocks and tree roots, combined with endless rolling hills and switchbacks. There was only one larger than average climb early in the race, but the route still managed 2,500 feet of elevation gain per loop.

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 1: Miles 0-25- feeling the adrenaline

In some ways, the first loop went by in a bit of a blur. We spent the first hour in the dark, so all of my concentration was focused on keeping my footing. We made it to the first aid station, around mile 5, as the sun was coming up, and I was able to briefly stop and take in my surroundings. It felt good to take the headlamp off, and my core had warmed up nicely, although my hands were still a bit cold. Aid stations are perfect for breaking up large groups a bit too, and I found myself with a bit more elbow room for the next segment, which was nice. I was feeling really good, easily running the downhills and flats, and tackling the hills with plenty of energy. I told myself I was not going to go out too fast, as I am oft prone to do, and at the time, I thought I was doing a really good job of holding back and remembering I needed to do this 4 times. The first 9 miles were definitely a technical challenge, and it became clear by the end of the loop that these miles were the most difficult on the course. Just before the aid station, there was a 3/10 mile section of asphalt which felt incredibly strange on my feet after they had taken a rocky beating for so long. This strange sensation only became more pronounced as the race went on.  Luckily, the epicurean and the rest of my crew were waiting for me at the mile 9 aid station (Huck’s Watering Hole). It was great to see them, and they gave me the once over to see if I needed anything, and I headed back out to tackle the remaining 16 miles. This was the only crew access point, other than the start/finish area (Jackson’s Island), so I knew I was on my own for a few hours.

There was one stream crossing on the route, and I came up on it almost immediately after leaving Huck’s Watering Hole. Luckily, the water levels were pretty low, so I was able to mostly step across on rocks although I still got a bit wet. My Altra Lone Peak 1.5s drained and dried pretty quickly, however, and I knew I had made the right choice with these more protective shoes. It was clear early on that my Dirty Girl gaiters were a good choice as well! I made my way to the Tom’s Canteen aid station at mile 15, still feeling good, and restocked on water. Each and every one of the aid stations was incredibly well stocked, and the volunteers were amazing! As soon as I arrived, they were asking what I needed, filling my soft flasks, and offering me a wide array of sweet and salty foods to keep my energy up. The last 10 miles, with another aid station in between, went really well. The trail in this section was quite runnable, and I was able to make good time on flatter and more open terrain, although the switchbacks continued. In all, the final 16 miles of the loop was somewhat easier to tackle, and much more open than the first 9 miles. Soon, of course, it would all blend together pretty thoroughly. I emerged from the forest and ran comfortably into Jackson’s Island, and everyone was waiting for me. I had covered the 25 miles in about 5 hours, and my legs were feeling really good. I shed my long sleeve shirt  and arm warmers, and my amazing crew restocked me with Tailwind, Honey stinger chews, and bodyglide. The sun was out, the air was warming, and it was an absolutely perfect day to be out on the trails. I couldn’t have asked for a better day as I waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out for loop 2.

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 2: Miles 26-50- Oh right, I have to keep running! 

My momentum continued to carry me into the next loop, and my legs were holding up nicely. I began to feel some fatigue as the miles ticked away, but that was to be expected regardless. I knew that the 5 hour mark was not sustainable for 25 miles, so I began making a more intentional effort to slow down even further. This became easier as I had more of the trail to myself, although I was still happily crossing paths with plenty of other folks. Slowing down meant I needed to be even more careful of my footing, as I wasn’t going at a normal pace. I managed to kick a few rocks and tree roots, but nothing too substantial. However, I was happy for the more structured Lone Peaks to protect my feet a bit. I knew the rocks and roots would be having plenty of other conversations with my toes as the day wore on, and although I’d never lost a toe on a run, I figured I stood the strongest chance yet in the Mark Twain National Forrest.

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

I rolled into Huck’s Watering Hole still feeling good and excited about passing the 50K mark. The trails were certainly beginning to make their mark on my feet but my legs were feeling good. Everyone was waiting for me, and filled up my bottles and nutrition. At this point, they had everything down to a science and it was fun to watch! They knew exactly what they were doing and all the right questions to ask. I drank some ginger ale and ate some pretzels and M & Ms, and was back out on the course in about 5 minutes. I hopped from rock to rock over the stream again, although I did manage to submerge one foot in the water before making it to the other side. The following 16 miles were all about patience, attention, and consistency. I had a much firmer grasp on the trail itself, and was comfortable being out there. However, I did manage to catch my right foot on a rock and in falling forward and catching myself, hyperextended my right hamstring. This definitely caused some pain and would end up giving me problems the rest of the race. I pushed through it though, and it didn’t slow me down all that much. I made my way back and forth on the constant switchbacks yet again, and by this time, they seemed to all bur together in the woods. I found myself thinking I knew where I was on many occasions, only to realize I was wrong. In the last few miles, I fell in step with another guy running the 100-miler and we had some nice conversations, which helped the time roll by that much quicker. He had gone out faster than he had wanted as well, so we were both in the same boat and focusing on slowing things down a bit. The added walking breaks felt good on my legs, and I was happy for the company.

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

I arrived at Jackson’s Landing around 5:00PM, which meant the second loop had taken me about 6 hours. This was a much more manageable time and I was still really happy with the progress I was making. Additionally, I was excited about being able to pick up my first pacer, and to have someone to run with and push me for the next 50 miles. I took a few more minutes at the aid station this time, ate and drank a bit more,  and chatted with everyone about how I was feeling. The first 50 miles were tough, but I was in good spirits. I restocked on nutrition, water in my bladder, and Tailwind in my soft flasks, and headed out for the third loop, accompanied by my first amazing pacer. Little did I know that those 9 miles would be the start of a battle with myself, and prove just how amazing my friends are…that, of course, is a story for the next post! Stay tuned 🙂

Finishing the second loop strong! It's a tad blurry because I'm clearly moving so fast ;) (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing the second loop strong! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Running Research to Consider

I’ve been in school for 26 of the 34 years I’ve been alive. In many ways, who I am has been defined by my presence in the classroom for as long as I can remember. I have three degrees, two certificates, and a nice balance of general and specialized knowledge to show for my troubles. I’ve made a career out of the classroom and enjoy my time there, whether as a student or a teacher. Either way, I’m always learning. Heck, if I could find a wealthy benefactor to support me, I’d probably spend the rest of my life in school. As it stands, I’ll have to “settle” for the joy of constant learning. I always happen to be juggling a dozen different topics in my mind, and my “great” reading list would make Robert Maynard Hutchins proud.

All of this is a long way of letting you know that my thirst for knowledge clearly spills over into my passion for running and endurance sports. This means I end up doing what I can to stay as up-to-date on current running-related research, and pouring over journal articles I’m not technically qualified to interpret. Nonetheless, I pick my way through them, look up what I don’t know, and add it to my bank of training knowledge as I constantly shape and reshape my training decisions. Luckily for me, I live in a university community with a wide range of like-minded academic runners, and we have access to a ridiculous amount of research due to our university affiliation. So, I thought I would share a few articles you may find interesting, and that may (or may not) have an impact on your future choices, or the sport as a whole.

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As a mainly qualitative researcher, I’m comfortable with small sample sizes and different notions of reliability and validity. In many quantitatively focused fields, of which I would include exercise science and related disciplines, samples garner a great deal more scrutiny. For this reason, I’ve found it interesting that much of the seemingly relevant literature on running related topics typically involve relatively small sample sizes. There is of course no single definitions of credibility, validity, and reliability. However, I offer this observation as you consider any research you come across.

I’ve also noticed that running research seems to focus on three main areas:

1. The impact of running on health/mortality (generally speaking): this may include specific questions about potential correlations between running and various diseases or physical ailments, or may more generally explore links between running (physical activity) and life expectancy. It may also look at the impact of such variables as heat, cold, and distance on the body or more specific portions of the body.

2. Running Nutrition & Hydration: What products offer the best fuel during a run? How do our bodies process energy while running? Is there a benefit to carb loading the day before a race (probably not)? Is there a perfect fat/carb/protein balance for endurance runners? Should you cut gluten from your diet (not necessarily)? Does the paleo diet benefit runners (not generally)? What is the proper electrolyte balance? How much sodium should you take in during a race?

3. Shoes, Shoes, and more Shoes (and maybe some other gear thrown in for good measure): The debate over the perfect running shoe has been raging for decades and shows no sign of letting up. Companies continue to try and stay ahead of the “next big thing” in running, as they offer minimal, and now maximal products to meet the needs (really, just the interests) of as many runners as possible. Much of this research is (gasp!) sponsored by the shoe companies themselves as they seek the scientific proof that their new, proprietary toe box/sole compound/upper weave, etc. best aids runners in as wide a group as possible.

Photo Credit: Runners Connect

Photo Credit: Runners Connect

Shockingly (ok, not really), the most important thing that all of the reading I’ve done and continue to do has taught me is that running is a personal, individual experience. I can say that it’s clear we’ve lost touch with our bodies over the years as we become more dependent on external products, and less dependent on the ability to listen to what our bodies have to tell us. The only silver bullet that will always universally benefit EVERY runner is training. If you put in the miles, you’ll see results, no matter what your goals might be along the way. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t see value in the wide variety of running-related research being done. Obviously I do, or I wouldn’t be reading it. I think much of the research being done, regardless of the results, can help us learn how to listen to our bodies, understand our bodies, and become more in touch with our running.

With that being said, here are a few recently published articles that may surprise you (or not, if you already knew this about yourself because you are listening to your body).

1. Researchers found that the level of cushion in the mid-sole of the  shoe had no impact on running-related injury rates. This certainly calls into question various shoes trends, eh?

2. The role of increased carbohydrates on endurance performance is being studied as well. Researchers stated  “We conclude that altering total daily carbohydrate intake by providing or withholding carbohydrate during daily training in trained athletes results in differences in selected metabolic adaptations to exercise, including the oxidation of exogenous carbohydrate. However, these metabolic changes do not alter the training-induced magnitude of increase in exercise performance.” In other words, carb-loading doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on performance.

3. Remember the tales about the impact of running hurting your bones? It turns out that impact may have the opposite effect and encourage bone strength and growth, especially as we age. Run on! On a side note, the title of this article is “Physical Activity and Bone: May the Force be With You”. How can you not love a group of researchers that produce titles like that?!

I’ll try to pull in more research as I come across articles that I find interesting, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you pay much attention to the research? Have you made different running choices? Is there amazing research happening out there that you’d like to share?

It’s Really Quiet at 3AM: 50 Miles of Overnight Training

I’ve had many amazing running experiences already, and, so long as I stay healthy, I hope to have many more. Amidst the chaos of this fall, my focus continues to be on preparing for the 24-hour Across the Years run on December 28th. In addition to being the longest I’ve ever run, this event promises to challenge me mentally and physically in ways I don’t yet even understand. Therefore, I’m not only training my body, but attempting to train my mind throughout the fall. Ideally, I’ll have as much of a sense of what the run will feel like as possible, despite the myriad of wildcards!

One such wildcard is the overnight factor. I’ve hit the 50 mile mark twice before, but have always run mainly during the day. On a more general level, I’ve noticed more and more that I don’t have the magical ability to stay up late or pull all-nighters that I once had. I may not need quite as much sleep as some folks, but I still need a full night to feel fully rested. This realization made it all the more important to me that I find out how my body would react to running in the wee hours of the morning, when it knows I should be asleep. So, I decided to plan a midnight run at a local park, and invite anyone else crazy enough to come out and run with me.

In addition to the time, running in the park allowed me to run short, repetitive routes. This had the benefit of both simulating the race, and allowing me to leave my nutrition and other running supplies in my car where they would be frequently and easily accessible. As the day loomed closer, I started to doubt my ability to even stay up easily until midnight to then start running. I made the choice to head to the park “early” and start running at 11PM, knowing that others might join me at midnight. I loaded my car with plenty of nutrition, dry clothing, and other first aid supplies I might need, and I drove the 1/2 mile to the park. Although I knew having my car ensured plenty of storage for supplies, it still felt strange driving in the first place!

11PM...time to start running!

11PM…time to start running!

After laying out my supplies in the car, I turned on my headlamp and slowly started running into the darkness. It only took me 30 seconds to jump a little as I stumbled across a couple, sitting in the dark, “talking” to each other. This run also provided me with an opportunity to get a feel for a much slower pace, which I know I’ll need to maintain, in order for my legs to hold up for 24 hours. I began with the goal of maintaining a 10 to 11 minute per mile pace throughout the night. The first 5 miles went by pretty easily as I started to get a feel for my intended pace and for the path I’d be running up and down. I made sure to remove as much debris from the path as possible, and keep an eye out for any obstacles I might encounter. These tasks helped keep my mind off the fact that I was running through a pitch-black park by myself. I realized very quickly how much I (and many others, I’m sure) take for granted the ambient light that surrounds us living in a populated area. The silence left me free to hear each of my footfalls, along with the random animals, birds, and insects that call the wooded park home.

At midnight, two intrepid friends joined me for some miles, of which I was grateful. Over the next 8 miles or so, we made are way along the trails, invented new routes, and otherwise kept ourselves occupied. Around 1:30AM, one of my friends headed home for the comfort of her bed, and that left two of us. At this point, the Salomon trail shoes I started off wearing, in part because it was forecasted to rain, started to irritate my feet so we ran the 1/2 mile to my house to trade them out. Over the next two hours, we became very familiar with the trails in the park, as well as surrounding roads. Despite the monotony of the running, having a friend to chat with (and ward off the ghosts) was wonderful and I was incredibly thankful for the 3.5 hours he ran with me.

Crazy friends running with me at midnight!

Crazy friends running with me at midnight!

After he left, the park suddenly seemed much more creepy. Of course,  I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that it was now 3:30AM or the random guy sitting on a park bench, upright, without moving. At that point, I made the executive decision to head up to a nearby main road that was lit, and run up and down the sidewalk until I met up with another friend who agreed to bike next to me. The street was still quiet, but even a little bit of light made he night seem not as intimidating. By this point, my body was definitely aware of the time, and I began to feel a bit nauseous, mainly due to the time of night. I had been taking water, electrolytes, and nutrition regularly and seemed to be consuming enough calories, so I can only assume that the mild nausea will emerge no matter what I decide on as my final nutrition plan.

Seeing my friend ride up to meet me was definitely a welcome break from the silence. She is normally awake at 4:30AM, so getting up to ride with me wasn’t nearly as difficult as it would have been if our roles had been reversed! I ran back and forth on the lit street with her for about 45 minutes, and then headed back to the car to refuel and re-hydrate. At this point, I decided to run to the starting location for the 6AM group run with my running group. We made our way to the meeting point, a few miles away, and the darkness was still quite intense but having someone pedaling along beside me certainly helped. My legs were beginning to feel some fatigue at this point, but I had been running for 7 hours at that point, so I suppose it was to be expected. We arrived at the group meeting spot, and then I headed back out with more friends. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to be a part of such an amazing running community?

I ran and chatted for the next 8 miles, still maintaining a 10:30 min/mile pace, for which I was quite pleased. The organized route actually went through the same park I had been running in all night, so I decided to stop at the car and refuel and then run back to the house quick to let out the dogs and give them their breakfast. At this point, I had been running for 9 hours, and had covered 42 miles. The sun finally emerged from its slumber, and it was a welcome sight to see the world once again illuminated by our favorite star.

Feeling good after 9 hours!

Feeling good after 9 hours!

The final two hours and 8 miles seemed to go by rather quickly, despite my legs feeling incredibly heavy. Although I had no mileage or time goals aside from getting through the darkness, I did secretly want to see 50 miles displayed on my Garmin. I arrived back at my car with a half mile to go, and figured it was somehow fitting to run small laps around the parking lot itself to reach 50 miles. Just as the clock struck 10AM, my Garmin struck 50 miles, and I walked back to my car with a giant, exhausted grin on my face. I slid into the car, drove the 1/2 mile home, took a quick shower, ate a bowl of cereal, and promptly collapsed in bed for 4 hours. My legs were sore and I had a bit of a headache, but moving from vertical to horizontal certainly felt nice! I’ll no doubt need to slow my pace a bit more (I finished with a 10:16 pace) to keep going for 24 hours, but now I know.

Done deal! Time for bed.

Done deal! Time for bed.

Late night. Early morning. Amazing friends. Important calories. Creepy parks. Now I know. 🙂

My Gluten Elimination Experience

On August 3rd, I embarked on a short-term journey. I have mildly struggled with digestive issues, both while running and in general, for quite a while now. I had played around with my fluid intake, adjusted my nutrition, cut out processed sugar, and monitored my diet in the days prior to long runs. All of these steps provided me with limited success and increased comfort, but many of the issues remained. Those ugly “runner’s trots” still emerged, undeterred by my attempts to vanquish them. I had to be missing something. There was clearly more I could do to adjust my daily habits.

For more than a year, our household has been mostly gluten-free and dairy free (we still cheat a bit on the dairy, but we are both suckers for really good cheese…can you blame us?). However, there is no cheating on the gluten for the beautiful epicurean. I’ve still managed to consume limited amounts of gluten, mostly in the form of whole grain breads, cereals, and my ever-expanding taste for quality micro-brews! It’s been interesting to watch the change in our lifestyle as we adjust our shopping and cooking habits. Foods that had been tried and true staples for us went by the wayside, and were replaced with ingredients neither of us had much experience with, whether it be cooking or eating. Luckily, the epicurean has a culinary gift (as if the name wasn’t a giveaway), so she has poured herself into the task of learning how to craft amazing gluten-free meals, and embrace the anti-inflammatory that keeps most of her Sjogren’s-related pains at bay.

gluten-free

As a side-note, I should point out that our choice to eliminate gluten and dairy had nothing to do with the variety of fad diets that seem to be the rage right now. Especially within healthy-living circles, gluten-free has somehow become a trend and people with no actual need to eliminate gluten are doing so in hopes that it will make them stronger or healthier. There are definitely health benefits to eating gluten-free, and research to demonstrate those benefits. There are also health benefits to eating a natural, unprocessed diet that includes whole grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. If either of us had to choose, we would be including those whole grains in our diet. Alas, this is not a choice motivated by trendy media hype or experimentation. At times, it is frustrating to see people make that assumption when you explain your dietary restrictions, when in reality, eating gluten causes every joint in the epicurean’s body to become inflamed and feel as though her body was attaching her with burning needles. There is nothing hip about that. That is physiology and biology. *Ok, I’ll step off my soapbox now.*

As I was saying, our home has been free of most gluten and dairy, but I always consumed just enough on my own to never really know if it was impacting me. Since I still had no solution for my GI troubles, I decided to go on a gluten-elimination diet to see if that was indeed causing my issues, as gluten intolerance manifests itself in similar ways quite regularly. Ok, so I didn’t so much “decide” to attempt this elimination diet as the epicurean strongly suggested it over the course of a few months, and I finally, begrudgingly, gave in. I suppose it was a testament to my commitment to running that I was willing to give up bread and beer, right?

Prior to my dietary experiment, I thought I had a pretty good sense of the struggle that the epicurean and others forced to eliminate gluten go through. I had been with her for every meal, watched the early despair as realization after realization emerged with regard to foods she could no longer eat. I watched her strength as she adapted to a new way of life and adjusted her passion for cooking to accommodate her new restrictions. I was wrong. At the end of every day during that period, I went to bed still being able to eat that sandwich, muffin, or pastry. I could still select new beers to try. When I was alone, I could still walk into just about any restaurant and find something on the menu to eat.

gluten_free_running

I’m not naive enough to think that the last 5 weeks of gluten-free living provide me with a full understanding of a lifetime of avoidance. However, being in a position to need to make those choices for myself has given me a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the experience as a whole. My transition could have been much more difficult, but I luckily have a supportive partner who understands both gluten-free living, and my commitment to running and my health. However, this dietary elimination experiment still reared it’s head at the most random times. It would catch me off-guard when I would be out with friends have realize at the last second that I couldn’t eat something or drink something. I spent even more time at the grocery store reading labels, searching for substitutes to my staples, and putting items back on the shelf after I realized I couldn’t eat them anymore. I ended up craving meals that I rarely thought about before. I am much more aware of choice than I was before.

After 5 weeks, my system had been cleared of gluten for the most part, and it was time to test my body. A few days prior to my planned gluten splurge, I inadvertently ate a malted-milk ball, not even thinking about the fact that it had gluten in it (malt)! I did, however, figure it out when my stomach quickly started churning, and I started sweating and feeling nauseous. This was not a good sign! However, I was going to stick to my plan and not jump to any conclusions. On the Sunday following my birthday (with Monday being a rest day), I cracked open a delicious bottle of small batch Sam Adams that I had been saving. Not only did I enjoy that beer more than I had any beer in quite a while, but I was keenly aware of that fact that it may be the last beer I ever have (yes, there are gluten-free beers, but they are a work in progress, to be sure!). After a few hours, I didn’t feel any different. The next day, I was still feeling fine. Perhaps gluten is not the culprit after all?

If it was going to be my last, it was going to be good!

If it was going to be my last, it was going to be good!

I’ve had gluten only one other time since that beer, again with no reaction. However, I’m still not entirely convinced that it doesn’t have something to do with my bodily concerns. I haven’t felt overwhelmingly different, but there has been a slight increase in my “comfort” on long runs. I’ve also recently noticed that Gatorade, even in small amounts (when given by others), is too much sugar for my stomach to comfortably handle in addition to my honey stinger chews. I shall indeed stick to water and electrolyte tabs. So, at the end of this interesting experiment, I may not have a concrete solution to the questions I sought out to answer. I’ll keep experimenting. What I do have is an even better appreciation for the effort and energy my partner puts into her diet and the food we eat. Her strength, commitment, and adaptability inspire me on a daily basis, and I’m happy to know that we signed up for this endurance event together!

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